Monday, December 7, 2009

Guest Blogger: Elementary school teacher and prospective kindergarten parent Lisa Borah-Geller

Why Should I Look for Schools That Develop Children Socially and Emotionally?
By Lisa Borah-Geller

I am a San Francisco parent of a prospective kindergartener, an elementary school teacher, and a curriculum developer for a non-profit organization called the Developmental Studies Center. Like some of you, I have spent a lot of time touring elementary schools. I have noticed that many parents look at test scores, facilities, program offerings (i.e., language or art programs), and principal leadership to judge the quality of a school. While these school characteristics are important, I encourage parents to also consider the school environment and how it fosters children’s social and emotional development. This is equally as important.

Touring the schools has made me reflect upon what kind of school environment I want for my daughter and how that environment can help her develop into the kind of person I hope she will become. I would like my daughter to treat others in a respectful, fair, and caring way and take responsibility for herself. I also believe that if my daughter feels happy, supported, safe, and engaged in school and learns to work well with others, she will feel comfortable enough to ask questions, explore new ideas, and learn more deeply.

I am looking for schools that foster a sense of community and teach children these values. Research shows that creating a strong sense of community at school increases students’ academic performance and has a positive influence on students’ behavior. When students are in caring school communities, they are more likely to like school, enjoy challenging learning activities, and help others ( In addition, data from a study on adolescent health, found that students’ sense of connectedness to school (and family) were linked to a decrease in a range of problem behaviors, including: the use of alcohol, violent behavior, emotional distress, and early sexual activity (

When I walk into the classrooms on school tours, I observe how the teachers treat the students (teachers must model respect and kindness for students to act in these ways) and how happy and engaged the students are in their work. I look to see if children are working collaboratively, which fosters a genuine interest in and concern for others. I ask about programs the schools have to promote caring classroom and school communities and students’ social and emotional development. Fortunately, many of the SFUSD schools implement either the Tribes Learning Community® or Caring School Community® programs. Both of these programs help create a positive classroom and school environment. My non-profit employer developed the Caring School Community program.

Recently, as part of my work, I had the opportunity to observe a class-meeting lesson in a kindergarten classroom at Sunnyside Elementary School in San Francisco. In class meetings, children get to know each other, discuss issues, identify and solve problems, and make decisions that affect classroom climate. The teacher was very kind and caring and also had excellent classroom management. The children seemed very happy and eager to participate. The teacher engaged the children in authentic discussion with each other as they talked about how to act for substitute teachers. Talking about how to treat substitute teachers and committing to positive, helpful behaviors prevents problems and makes the classroom run more smoothly when the regular teacher is absent. Ultimately, a child who discusses and learns why she should treat everyone respectfully (including substitute teachers) is beginning to develop into the kind of person I hope my daughter will become—a good, caring, and responsible one.


  1. Lisa, while I respect the fact that you are pointing out that parents should look at schools that develop children socially and emotionally, I find it saddening that so many parents think that theirs is a choice to be made between academic excellence and the development of a social conscience in their children.

    I just listened to a discussion on NPR's Forum about the Copenhagen Climate Conference. Much of the confusion about climate change stems from a lack to critical thinking and science understanding. The impact of climate change will be great in terms of its social and environmental destruction. Yet, so many of us will not be prepared by our schools to understand it.

    That is only one many examples.

    I toured E R Taylor several weeks ago. There, children and parents do not have to choose between academic excellence and social awareness. That is largely due to an extraordinary and multifaceted effort at the school by teachers and the principal.

    All we "test score" parents are asking for is that other schools meet the same standard.

    It is reductive and false to imply that a push for better test scores and academic performance must come at the cost of developing a social conscience.

  2. I think Lisa's point is that we ought to look for social education *in addition* to academic development. Unfortunately, I've found a lack of both in the schools I've toured.

  3. This is just meaningless. Of course everyone wants their child in an environment that fosters social and emotional development. But, the notion that you can see and judge this in the 5 minutes of your tour is plain silly. People look at scores because they are on of the few concrete things that you can clearly see about a school.

  4. 10:18 again.

    I will say that the E R Taylor tour is conducted by their principal. It is more that an hour long. The principal exhaustively answered questions from the parents. I believe about 40 minutes of the tour was spent answering questions as we walked around the school.

    E R Taylor has a food and culture day where the kids do dance and bring food to school that represents their country of origin. They have a huge map on the wall showing where all the kids come from. They have a school play.

    At the same time, most of the kids learn beginning reading by the end of kindergarten, even though more than half are not native English speakers.

    Math and science test scores look like Clarendon by grade 5.

    On their own time during the summer, most of the teachers took classes to explore latest teaching methods.

    While I am not saying that this should be mandatory, most of us who work in private sector professions certainly know the level of dedication and flexibility that is required to produce excellence. Clearly, at E R Taylor, the teachers are also driving themselves to that level of excellence.

    The school goes far beyond having reading intervention programs. They have counsellors to work with the kids and their families to identify problems early on so that learning is not affected. They have a school nurse. They have an academically focused afterschool program for kids that need extra help.

    It is socially responsible to do this. I am well aware of the funding pressures that are now on schools. However, we can not even start to have a discussion about social and emotional development unless we have the support for intervention for the kinds of problems that many disadvantaged kids have at home.

    Integration alone simply places the haves and have nots next to each other, but rarely addresses the underlying problems that keep disadvantaged kids from excelling at school.

    I am fed up with the argument against using test scores as an initial means to find good schools. Thus far, the school tours that I have done more than bare out that schools with good test scores (Clarendon, E R Taylor, Alvarado, Sunset, RLS, etc.) also have a great atmosphere that facilitates social empathy.

    Unfortunately, there are not enough of these schools to go around. Disadvantaged children have first dibs in the lottery and therefore have greater access to the good schools. It is therefore not surprising that family's who are not considered disadvantaged have great difficulty getting into these few good schools and must seek and pay, at great expense, other alternatives.

    It is too much to ask, and frankly almost worthless to both the advantaged and the disadvantaged, to ask these families to send their kids to poor schools in the name of social justice.

  5. Agree with your statements that ER Taylor is a fantastic and responsible school.

    Funny thing is, your statement that disadvantaged kids have first dibs at the better schools is probably not true at Taylor. Because of the way the lottery works, at least until the assignment system redesign goes through, it is more likely not-poor, English-speaking kids who will have first dibs there, if their families apply, as they will provide diversity to that school.

    I would also say that Alvarado and Clarendon have plenty of more privileged kids (children whose parents make professional salaries)--way out of proportion to their numbers in the district as a whole. Is this because of the neighborhood advantage (in Alvarado's case)? Or the fact that more privileged families apply in Round 1? Transportation concerns? Lack of outreach or knowledge by poorer families? A feeling that they wouldn't belong? I don't know.

    But the point is, proportionally the not-poor kids attend "better" schools (in terms of test scores and other measures) than the poor kids, who are much more likely to end up in failing schools. Yeah, it's a hard process to go through. But the advantaged kids do well, as a whole, with a few exceptions. It's the poorer kids who don't beat the odds, unless they end up at outlier schools like Moscone or Taylor.

  6. "When I walk into the classrooms on school tours, I observe how the teachers treat the students (teachers must model respect and kindness for students to act in these ways) and how happy and engaged the students are in their work. I look to see if children are working collaboratively, which fosters a genuine interest in and concern for others."

    Lisa, I also look for this in schools. However, a teacher will have great difficulty creating a positive model of respect if that does not exist at home.

    I belong to the city's Graffiti Watch program. Just after posting my last message, I received this email from Merle Goldstone of the Graffiti Watch program:

    "Hey Merle, thought you might get a kick out of this one. I was pulling out my abatement materials, cleaning a tag off my neighbor's building, talking to my other neighbor Rex, when we saw two kids in blue walking up the street spray painting the sidewalk. We were was broad daylight, there were people around, and these two were tagging up turf. We've had some problems with the Norteno gangsters down the street, and these two were apparently Surenos trying to claim the turf. They threatened Rex as they walked past so we thought we'd call the police.

    Rex and I followed the pair onto 14th St while dialing 911. We watched them tag up another building on 14th St, right in front of a store owner who was standing with his family on the street. They walked out across Mission, saw us following, and hid in the alcove of the SF Armory (at 14th & Mission) until a Muni bus came. They ran out and boarded the Muni bus, throwing their spray can under the bus. Rex, on the phone with dispatch, ran out in front of the bus to slow it down while I tried to talk to the driver. This slowed the bus down enough for SFPD to catch up with the bus at 15th & Mission. Our descriptions were good enough for the police to identify the pair and they pulled them off the bus. We walked up and identified them as the taggers...after showing the police the tags, and finding some others (5 total) the punks were off to jail...probably for a felony.

    Bonus points: one of the taggers had been taunting one of the responding female officers last week in court, blowing kisses at her in front of the judge.


    Is gang behavior caused by poor school environments or poor parenting? I don't think these guys are up for a felony just because their teachers weren't repectful enough.

    This is right here under our noses. It is commonplace. It will take a lot more than a good school environment to fix it.

    Integrating schools will not fix this.

  7. "Funny thing is, your statement that disadvantaged kids have first dibs at the better schools is probably not true at Taylor. Because of the way the lottery works, at least until the assignment system redesign goes through, it is more likely not-poor, English-speaking kids who will have first dibs there, if their families apply, as they will provide diversity to that school.

    I'm not going to argue with this statement. E R Taylor will be on the top of my list, and I hope on the top of other people's lists as well.

    However, the principal did let us know that the school is very hard to get into and almost impossible to transfer into after K. Very few children move away from the school once they are in.

    "But the point is, proportionally the not-poor kids attend "better" schools (in terms of test scores and other measures) than the poor kids, who are much more likely to end up in failing schools. Yeah, it's a hard process to go through. But the advantaged kids do well, as a whole, with a few exceptions. It's the poorer kids who don't beat the odds, unless they end up at outlier schools like Moscone or Taylor."

    It is up to families, poor and otherwise, to find a good school. I know many disadvantaged families that know their child's school is not good, but stay there because it is convenient or ethnically comfortable. The hard fact is that many poor families do not value or support academic learning.
    That fact should not be placed on the shoulders of others. (Even though it has, in terms of taxpayer investment.)

    I would argue against that fact that advantaged children do well in San Francisco. Math and science teaching seems to be quite weak in the public high schools, across the board. The vast majority of children are not prepared to attend the UCs.

    Even if they do, they often need to do a year of catch up material to make up for what they did not learn in K-12.

    Those numbers have already been discussed in other threads on this site. I am not going to recount them here.

  8. The hard fact is that many poor families do not value or support academic learning.
    That fact should not be placed on the shoulders of others. (Even though it has, in terms of taxpayer investment.)

    This is simply untrue, classist, and - let's be frank here - racist. SFUSD's poorest students are students of color.

    The hard fact is that MANY, indeed as many as wealthy families, poor families value education and academic learning. However, what the value - what it looks like, what is taught, HOW it is taught - may be very different than what white, upper-middle class parents want.

    Moreover, SFUSD has failed poor students of color for years. Many families have their own memories of being poorly taught. These families cannot assume that schools have their best interests at heart.

    These are the hard facts. The onus is on the majority culture. We cannot take that away by making false, ancedotal assertions about cultural pathology and Ruby Payne-style judgements.

  9. Did I miss something? When did this become a discussion about Taylor??

    Lisa I enjoyed your post very much and I think it is good to always remember to look beyond cold facts like numbers. What is a nurturing environment will be different from one child to the next and all the more reason not to obsess over the "trophy" schools, which might not be a good match al all for some kids.

  10. 1:08, I strongly urge you to read Elijah Anderson's "Code of the Street: Decency, Violence and the Moral Code of the Inner City." Anderson is an African-American Yale sociology professor. He focuses on the African-American community, but the issues he explores would also clearly apply to the pull of the gang culture on Latino youths (and young people of other races in other communities).

    When I read it, I remembered hearing a teacher at a school in the Bayview talk about her kids creating a play about "The Street vs. the School" -- the culture of the school against the intense pull of the culture of the street.

    The book gives a good idea of what schools and the community are up against when the family isn't strong enough (or the parents aren't present enough) to combat the surrounding environment.

    "Code of the Street" is mostly about exploring the problem. He doesn't see easy solutions, unfortunately.

  11. Thanks, Lisa, for trying to remind people to look for a school that nurtures the "whole student" rather than simply focusing on teaching to the test (or whatever you want to call the academic approach that correlates with higher test scores, beyond the well known correlation between test scores and socioeconomic class). I agree with an earlier poster that it's really hard to assess much of anything in a 1-2 hour tour (academics OR social environment), but to the extent possible, it's good to get a feel for whether a school would be a happy learning environment for one's child. The best fit for a given child may not be the school with the highest test scores (though of course we ALL want our kids to get a good academic education as well). Good luck with the lottery!

  12. 1:47,

    While I would agree that schools don't always do a good job teaching in a cultural context, it is not helpful to look away from factors that are internally imposed in African American and Latino communities that defeat learning.

    Playing the racist card and pointing the finger at the "majority culture" won't help. The majority culture isn't the majority anymore. There are just as many people in the "majority culture" who would like to see "minorities" improve their lot as there are unhelpful and racist people.

    It is quite convenient to exclusively put the blame "somewhere else." As individuals, we are all familiar with that temptation.

    We've been stuck with that broken record for years. It has been limited in its positive effect.

    No "advantaged" parent can force a disadvantaged parent to push for a better school. Few "advantaged" parents can create a home environment for a disadvantaged child of a to do their homework.

    Yes, there are some things that can be done in the greater culture to help the disadvantaged. Those have their economic limits.

    There must also be actions taken by disadvantaged communities themselves.

  13. I'm not sure what it is exactly... I read a post like Lisa's and think that there is hope that my children will receive a well rounded and academically sound education in the SFUSD.. and then I read the comments and I feel as if I'm not qualified to make this decision for my children. I don't have a PhD in education, I couldn't tell you the advantages/disadvantages to having homework be worksheets or abstract math concepts.

    Where did you get your training to make these grand generalizations about the quality of education in SFUSD and could you please list the failing schools? I know last year there was great exception that John Muir was a failing school... so could your perceptions be biased?

  14. Hi Caroline,

    I will have to read "Code of the Street."

    My own favorite is "And I Haven't Had a Bad Day Since" by Charlie Rangel. It is a little repetitive but, in his self awareness, Rangel is truly unsurpassed in anything I have read on this.

    Living in the Mission, I've seen it first hand. There was a longtime family across our street who had owned their home since the eighties. The mom of five got involved in heroin and meth and started an affair with her pimp. The house became a "dealing house." The mostly teenage kids got involved in a violent gang. Eventually, the meth operation resulted in the house burning down. The father ended up selling the burned out hulk of the house for next to nothing. Who knows where those kids are now?

    It is actions like this that leave me saddened and angry.

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  16. Isn't "prospective kindergarten parent" incorrect terminology? Makes it sound like her kid may, or may not, go to K. I assume the kid will.

  17. to 4:54, no it isn't incorrect. I and other parents are looking into Kindergartens while also considering unschooling.

  18. E R Taylor has a fabulously wealthy benefactor that has given over $1 million dollars to the school over the last few years.

    It is not surprising that it stands out as an unusual school.

  19. I think it should be pointed out that Anderson's work is at least ten years old, and the book's perspective has been questioned, taken up, and broadened in any number of recent works. Ventakesh's Off the Books relates a very interesting perspective in the ways both "decent" and "street" people interact with the underground economy. The perspective is nuanced and far less black/white than one might think.

    Beyond that, while we may have talked a good game about multicultural education, affirming diversity, and so on, I challenge you to look at the policies and procedures of American education and see how very little they have changed to become culturally aware. The models of discourse, language, and space in our schools is built upon a model comfortable to some and alien to others, and it is largely unaddressed. If we want all children to succeed, we need to look at these very foundational issues and teach situational awareness and code-switching directly.

    Until we do that, it is uninformed at best and racist at worst to pretend that we are offering educational equity.

  20. Good job plugging your employer's curriculum, Lisa. People, learn some critical reading skills already. Pay attention to obvious sources of bias. I'm not crazy about Caring School Community. Too time-consuming, and students don't seem engaged, not after the first few (repetitive) lessons. Seems more productive to build buddy activities and conflict resolution right into the academic curriculum instead.

    As for Tribes: a little dated. I've read that relationship experts no longer recommend the I-Messages ("I feel ___ when you ___") which are the heart and soul of Tribes of the program.

    Many schools use one or the other of these two programs. I'm not positive the school climate is better at the schools that do than the schools that don't.

  21. Meant to say: "which are the heart and soul of the Tribes program."

  22. 1:47

    Truthfully, isn't it about time for people to take responsibility for their actions and not blame it on someone else.

    All parents regardless of color and economics should make sure education is important.

    Unfortunately, people who are economically challenged do not value education.

    Let's just face the facts and deal with the facts.

  23. Unfortunately, people who are economically challenged do not value education.

    That is a very broad and simplistic statement to make about a complex situation. It is also totally untrue.

    Just one obvious counter-statement (though there are other stories to tell as well), our large Chinese American community includes a wide range of incomes, including many who are very poor--qualify for free lunch, live in tenement housing. As a group they tend to bust right through the expectations that low-income kids can't do well in school. Has anyone here checked out the test scores in inner Chinatown schools? ..... so, are these test scores happening in spite of their parents under-valuing education? I don't think so.

    Such a silly thing to say. My middle schooler would be marked down for making an unsupported and overly general argument like that in an essay.

  24. December 8, 2009 12:38 AM:

    It is pretty clear that the Asian community highly values education.

    However, most other disadvantaged communities do not.

    Let's face the facts.

  25. It's not "facing the facts" to spread unkind, unsupported stereotypes about economically disadvantaged communities. Go tell the African American mom whose son is in Alice Fong Yu that she "doesn't value education". Say it to the Latina moms of my daughter's first-grade peers; the moms whose kids arrive at school everyday in speckless clothes, not a hair out of place, with their homework completed perfectly. I dare you to look them in the eye and say it.

    Rich white people think they are entitled to their privilege because they "value education" and other people don't. It's just not true. The world is an unfair place and you didn't end up on top because you're specially wonderful and smart. You got there because you were lucky.

  26. It is not useful to have this kind of all or nothing argument.

    No one hear said that all African Americans or Latinos don't value education. The word was "many."

    You can easily look on the internet to find the well done research that examines the factors, such as an over emphasis on the need to work and bear children in the teenage years, at the expense of focusing on preparation for post-secondary education, that defeat the long term prosperity and potential of many in the Latino community.

    The factors are different and more complex in the African American community.

    These have nothing to do with "rich white people."

  27. "It is not useful to have this kind of all or nothing argument."

    You're absolutely right. So why do you keep _making_ it an all or nothing argument? To suggest that the institutional problems faced by people in disadvantaged communities have "nothing to do with rich white people" is to demonstrate callousness, historical ignorance or both. Many minority parents want their kids to go to college; many white parents find themselves dealing with pregnant teenagers. Stop finding flimsy excuses for the racist things you are saying. Ideally, stop saying racist things.

  28. Thank you, Yatima.

  29. "Many minority parents want their kids to go to college; many white parents find themselves dealing with pregnant teenagers. Stop finding flimsy excuses for the racist things you are saying. Ideally, stop saying racist things."

    From the California Department of Education: Teen Pregnancy and Parenting in California:

    "Two of every three babies born to teens are born to Latinas."

    "California's birth rates to teens are between 4 and 12 times higher than are the rates for France, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, and Japan. In 2001, more than 53,000 teens - nearly 5% of all teens aged 15 to 19 - gave birth in California, and many more became pregnant. (Constantine, N., and Nevarez, C., p. 1) "

    "An estimated 50% to 60% of parenting teens have been sexually abused, a figure twice the national rate for never-pregnant teens. (Berglas, N., Brindis, C., and Cohen, J., p. 16) "

    "Adolescents who become mothers tend to exhibit poorer psychological functioning, lower levels of educational attainment and high school completion, more single parenthood, and less stable employment than those with similar background who postpone childbirth. (Constantine, N., and Nevarez, C., p. 2) "

    "70% of teen mothers drop out of high school, making pregnancy the primary reason young women drop out early. Only 30% of teen mothers complete high school by age 30, compared to 76% of women who delay parenthood until age 21 or older. (Berglas, N., Brindis, C., and Cohen, J., p. 24) "

    "Teen marriages are twice as likely to end in divorce as marriages in which the woman is at least 25 years old. (Berglas, N., Brindis, C., and Cohen, J., p. 23) "

    "Fathers to children of teen mothers, whether teenaged or older themselves, tend to start with low educational attainment and low incomes, and to live in low-income communities. As a result of early parenthood, these fathers are likely to work and earn more initially, but they tend to achieve less education and lower earnings over time than their non-parenting peers, most likely due to the early focus on working at the expense of education. (Constantine, N., and Nevarez, C., p. 4)"

    "Nearly 80% of fathers of children born to teen mothers do not marry the mothers, up from 15% in 1960. (Berglas, N., Brindis, C., and Cohen, J., p. 23)"

    "Only one out of five teen mothers receive any financial support from their child's father. (Berglas, N., Brindis, C., and Cohen, J., pp. 25-26)"

    "The current annual net costs to taxpayers of births to teen mothers in California are estimated to be $1.7 billion, and current annual total net costs to society run $3.8 billion. (Constantine, N., and Nevarez, C., p. 3) May 2008 update."

  30. None of which - ABSOLUTELY NONE OF WHICH - contradicts my central point, which is that many minority parents want their kids to go to college and many white parents find their teenagers pregnant. At no point did I say or mean to diminish the massive institutional inequities facing communities of colour. On the contrary, I'm doing as much as I can to try to address these inequities. My work on this front includes calling you on your racist generalities and callous attitude.

    Yes, it is the case that poor, migrant communities see a lot of teen pregnancy, for complex and interlocking reasons that include lack of opportunity, lack of access to contraception, fractured families and many other factors I'm leaving out here. What is your point in making this point? That we should chalk up inequity as endemic to those communities? Blame them for the injustices they face? Walk away from schools in socioeconomically disadvantaged neighborhoods because the poor deserve to be poor? Because it sure sounds like that's what you're suggesting.

    How about instead of victim-blaming and slut-shaming, we give parents in those communities the benefit of the doubt, credit them with hoping for outcomes for their children every bit as good as the outcomes we hope for our own children, and figure out how to work together to improve opportunities for every kid growing up in San Francisco?

    What, exactly, would be the downside of that approach?

  31. We get it - Some poor people value education, some don't.

    A point that was raised here before is that people of all backgrounds and values should consider the cost to educate their children before having children.

    A H.S. education doesn't get you very far in this country and that is all our government will pay for.

    Unless we want to continue to expand our under-educated class, we may want to think about how address this problem.

    I think it is practical and realistic to say, unless you have the means to educate four children through vocational school or college, you should probably consider having only 2.

  32. 5:29, I gather that means you are pro-choice, support the idea of free birth control distributed to young women without parental permission, and would argue for subsidized educational opportunities for women beyond inner city schools? Because that's a tiny fraction of what it would take to reduce teen pregnancies in poor populations.

    White middle-class teens get pregnant all the time. Guess what? They have abortions. Every one of my 3 best straight friends in college had an abortion before she was 25. White teens are not more moral, or education-focused, or less horny, or whatever. They just have a big safety net when they screw up.

  33. wow, this thread has veered off-course (as so many others have). if parents can't model social and emotional maturity and intellectual excellence, let's hope our schools can do some leading on this front.

  34. 1:19 here.

    I don't think that 7:37's comments about abortion are inappropriate.

    The lack of access to information about birth control and abortion in this country have certainly increased the rate of teen pregnancy and birth.

    In Europe, birth control and sex are much more openly spoken about. That has is the main reason for a much lower rate of teen pregnancy.

    Central American countries are much more conservative than in California. Sex is not openly spoken about. People are expected to marry at a young age and have children. There is no cultural imperative to go to school.

    Clearly, the way of life in California is very different from that of Central America.

    It leads to what I view as tragic consequences for many Latina women and their children here in California.

    It is also amounting to a considerable financial and social cost for Californians in general.

    If we want Latina girls to make the most of their education, we need to confront this issue. It will also be an important factor that could make or break the upward mobility of Latinos as a group.

    Furthermore, it is a looming issue for San Francisco schools. Disadvantaged Latino children are a growing class in this city. Teen parents will be limited in their ability to contribute to their child's school. The children of teen parents will receive fewer resources from their parents. The children of teen parents are at higher risk to also become teen parents. The very low rate of high school graduation for teen mothers will mean that they are less likely to set an example for their children, particularly their daughters. Those are only some of the ways that teen pregnancy will negatively impact our schools.

    No doubt, Yatima will say I am callous. I would argue that it is not I who am callous. The reality is brutally callous. To turn away from the reality, to say nothing, is irresponsible, in my view.

    It would do a lot more to talk directly about family planning and the imperative to delay birth until after university than to continue to go on with a diatribe about "complex and interlocking reasons", "Blame them for the injustices they face?", "Walk away from schools in socioeconomically disadvantaged neighborhoods because the poor deserve to be poor?" and "victim-blaming and slut-shaming."

    None of those things were implied. Of course, it is politically convenient to label every person that talks about personal responsibility with racism and being a "slut-shamer."

    Going back to the original point of this thread, I would say that test scores and academic excellence do matter. Teaching social responsibility is important. Parents should expect an environment where both can happen.

    Schools cannot fix everything. Parents have to be prepared and enabled to raise their children in a positive learning environment.

  35. I find this thread very invigorating and interesting.

    The Latina and education elements interest me as I have a young woman (just turned 21) who works for me and attended the same middle school as my son. She works full time and attends City College full time. She is the first in her family to go to college (older sister has two kids, mom appears to have limited education, family grew up in public housing, dad not around, etc.)

    Just today I had a conversation with her in which I asked her about what was expected of her in public schools growing up. Unlike my son (with two college educated parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents) this young woman said no one talked about it at home, certainly. But also, no one talked about it at school. She was quite unaware through HS what it took to get into UC or any college. No one guided her. And now she is working her tail off (on her own) to get the credits necessary to transfer to USF or UC. Today I realized that she is still taking the basics that I knew I needed to take (30 years ago in HS) to get into a university.

    I say this as it brought to life much of what is being discussed here. It's not that her family doesn't value education, it's that they really don't even KNOW about it! For her family from central america, if you finished eight grade, that's good enough, but if you finish HS, that's really GREAT! College just isn't something they fathom.

    I also told her that many things have changed for SFUSD kids in the short time she's been out of school - for one, all students will be graduating with the A-G requirements so that they will have the credentials required to enter the UC system. She strongly felt that this would have made a world of difference to her as she wasn't even aware of all this while in HS.

    I worked with immigrant parents in my work - both Chinese and Latino. Most were moms - and I assure you, I didn't meet one who didn't value education for their children. They all had different vantage points, but were all working so hard to provide a better life for their kids. I was, and continue to be, inspired by these personal heroes of mine.

  36. I think it is REALLY hard to tell whether a school really does this well.

    1) It is too easy to pay lip service to social/emotional learning

    2) Tours are limited and limiting. Whether you visit a very progressive classroom or a very structured one, you are likely to see both carpet time/circle time and/or center work in the mornings when the tours are scheduled.

    3) There are 4 kindergarten teachers at our school. Two spend a lot of time focusing on teh social/emotional realm. The other two are much more focused on the cognitive. How would you generalize across all grades?

  37. FYI, the demographics of Clarendon and Alvarado are VERY different.

    Alvarado is half Latino. One third of the kids are just learning English. And around 40 percent qualify for a free lunch.

  38. 1:19 and 10:06 from yesterday here.

    To December 8, 2009 11:00 PM:

    I don't know what your point is about the demographics of Clarendon and Alvarado being different. So what? They both have an involved groups of parents, innovative, dedicated teachers, a diverse community and great principals.

    So what difference does it make if the groups that make up the diversity are different?

    To December 8, 2009 10:58 PM:

    It is nonsense that working in the cognitive realm comes at the expense of social/emotional learning.

    Where does this kind of reductive thinking come from?

    Haven't you every read Thomas Aquinas, Confucius, The Buddha, Kwame Nkrumah, Simone de Beauvoir, Shakespeare, Emmanuel Kant, Nellie McClung, Bertrand Russell, Martin Luther King? Oh, and how about St. John Chrysotom?

    Here he is, writing 1,700 years ago:

    "Let us consider everything as secondary to the provident care we should take of our children, and to our 'bringing them up with the training and instruction befitting the Lord' [Ephesians 6:4]. If from the very beginning they are taught to be lovers of true wisdom, then they have acquired a wealth superior to all glory. You will achieve nothing as great by teaching them an art, and giving them that profane learning by which they will gain riches, as by teaching them the art of despising riches. If you desire to make them rich, do this. For the rich man is not he who desires many riches and is encircled with abundant wealth, but he who has need of nothing. Discipline your children in this, teach them this. This is the greatest riches."

    "Wealth is harmful, because it renders us unprepared for the vicissitudes of life. Let us therefore bring up our children to be such that they will be able to bear up against every trial, and not be surprised at what may come upon them."

    From St. John Chrysostom, "Homilies on the Epistle to the Ephesians" born in Antioch in approximately 344 AD or BCE.

    My apologies for the quite Christian quotation. However, my point here is to illustrate, using a timeless quotation, that critical thinking, inductive reasoning and compassion go hand in hand. One does not oppose the other.

    As someone with a science/engineering background, my "art", I feel only "rich" that I can understand ultrasound technology, mammography, MRI machines, cell phones, electrical power transmission, solar electicity efficiency, arguments about the nuances of climage changes, etc.

    This does not come at the expense of philosophical thinking.

    To December 8, 2009 10:34 PM:

    It sounds like you have a very rewarding job. I am so glad to hear that your 21-year-old friend/employee has found you as her guide. She sounds very resilient and resourceful and she will surely succeed.

    Earlier, I said that Latinos do not value education. That is obviously too simplistic a statement. It is true though that, for the most part, they do not have the knowledge to navigate and prepare for what is required to go to university here in California. Confronting that is complex.

    A few schools seem to be bringing the Latino kids (and their parents) along. We need more of that.

    Thanks for your inspiring post.

  39. December 8, 2009 10:34 PM here again.

    Yes, I am lucky to have found rewarding nonprofit work after many years in the corporate sector (which I also found rewarding as well!)

    I appreciate the clarification of your post as I agree with how you state it now.

    I'm struck wondering how kids with no support at home (through no fault of their own) survive academically at all. As I browbeat my middle school son into being better organized, helping him learn how to study for test content and structure an essay argument, I know that half the kids in his school must be floating away lost.

    Entering my 8th year as a public school parent, I increasingly am saddened by the realization that children are doomed or blessed in the future before they walk into kindergarten based on the situation they live in.

    Practically everyone on this list, by virtue of being informed, involved and largely educated parents will produce kids that will be successful. As much as I worry about my own kids, it's clear they are doing well and will continue to do so regardless of whatever school they are in now or in the future. (I believe that now more that ever - so glad I didn't waste thousands paying for private elementary/middle)

    I've also seen amazing immigrant parents help their kids overcome amazing odds - especially when those same parents understand what is different about US expectations of parent involvement in their education.

  40. Glad to know I'm not the only middle school parent struggling with these issues, 9:49!

    And agreed, what happens with these kids who don't have structured support at home?

    I will say that School Loop is a great tool for connecting teachers with parents at the middle school level. I realize some parents don't have internet access still, but more do than ever, so hopefully those that do, of all class and education backgrounds, are aware of what the expectations are and how their kids are meeting them. I am so glad not to be floating in the dark unaware of where the problems (and successes!) are happening for my middle school kid!

  41. 11:47 AM from yesterday.

    Thanks for your thoughts and nice to know there are other parents out there thinking about this.

    Here are some of my observations. I may be wrong in some of my quasi conclusions taken from the observations. Maybe the observations are incomplete, but here goes anyway.


    Yes, they have a pretty good art program.
    Yes, they have immersion.
    But they also have at least one excellent math teacher who's style spans the spectrum from origami to hard core teaching of multi column multiplication in grade three. He does it until the kids can get it. (By the way, Singapore math also does origami exercises.)

    Quasi conclusion:
    Unlike many other schools in the city with high numbers of Latino kids, these kids are learning math in school because they are taught it by a rigorous approach in class.
    Test scores for Latino kids in this school still lag other kids, but they are not on the floor.

    E R Taylor:

    - Kids are taught in class, both reading and math. Lots of in class learning.
    - Councellors work with the parents early on and through out the school years if there is a problem.
    - Kids are evaluated at least four times a year. There is early intervention if there is a problem.
    - Kids in Spanish immersion are targeted to be fully fluent in English by the end of grade 5 so that they will not be lost in middle school.

    The test scores of these kids speak for themselves.

    Other schools?
    I won't comment, except to say that the test scores for Latino kids in most Spanish immersion and GE programs in the city go down, not up, as middle school approaches.

    I've also spoken to a number of Latino kids over the years. In the early grades, they talk about being a doctor or a pilot. By middle school, they talk about being a hair stylist or construction worker. Not to say that I don't love my hair stylist! but I do notice that the aspirations of Latino kids tend to drop as the grades proceed.

    So I don't have any super conclusions here, except to say that I don't think all these sub par immersion programs are helping Latino kids.

    I know I will get in trouble for saying that. So be it.

    Again, it is a little general of a statement, but I don't have all day to formulate the perfect argument.

    I'd be interested in what others think.

  42. So I don't have any super conclusions here, except to say that I don't think all these sub par immersion programs are helping Latino kids.

    The data on these programs worries me a lot, too. They seem to serve English-dominant children very well. Spanish-dominant children don't seem to experience such success.

    It worries me too that SFUSD has had little public discussion on this issue.

  43. Re immersion programs and ELL kids, the data is mixed on this point. They don't have enough of a longitudinal view, or adequate test data in both languages, to compare apples to apples. They need to compare GE programs, late- and early-exit bilingual programs, and immersion programs to each other. They also need to compare groups with similar characteristics (ELL, i.e., not English-proficient, kids who start in K and go through the whole program; versus ELL kids who enter at the upper grades--and the immersion schools see many of these kids as that is who enters in the upper grades of elementary and in middle--but you can't judge an immersion program based on their English language test scores when they just arrive).

    Is there an achievement gap between English-proficient and ELL kids in the immersion programs? Yes, there is, and they mirror the socio-economic gaps overall. Is there a gap between the ELL kids in immersion programs and the ELL kids going through other programs? That is less clear.

    All of this is not to say that the district shouldn't be raising these questions out in the open, with great transparency. It is RIGHT to ask the question about whether ELL kids are being served well by immersion programs compared to other programs, and to ask how to improve the programs in order to serve those kids much better. Just because test scores go up in a school with more middle and upper-middle class kids doesn't mean the school is successful.

    I know the third-grade math teacher at Alvarado who was referenced above and his methods should be replicated (he works very hard--is one of those shining star teachers who has given a large chunk of his life to teaching as a matter of vocation). He is also a Latino immigrant and male and a great role model for the boys at greatest risk of slipping in the upper grades--we need more like him.

    Back to the topic--I am not saying to avoid these questions. I'm familiar with the studies and the rumors on all sides and I know there are activist parents (esp at Buena Vista) who are repeating this idea that immersion programs are gentrification that serve Anglo kids well but not Latino kids. I just don't think it is proven yet. Whatever reforms continue to be made, and practices put into place in programs aimed at ELL kids, I think should be based on data that is signficant enough and also correctly correlated to actually say what is happening.

  44. December 10, 11am,

    "I'm familiar with the studies and the rumors on all sides and I know there are activist parents (esp at Buena Vista) who are repeating this idea that immersion programs are gentrification that serve Anglo kids well but not Latino kids."

    Thanks, all, for your comments.

    That's interestig about the parents at Buena Vista. I was completely unaware of that. The concern about how Latino kids are doing in the immersion programs seems to be coming from a number of different perspectives.

    I hope the school board is looking carefully at this.

  45. Yep, some people on this blog are very concerned about the success of Latino students in Spanish Immersion programs. That's because they haven't read any research. 30+ years of research into immersion programs documents better results for native speakers of Spanish in immersion compared to similar students in English-only programs.

    But hey, why read research? It's so much faster to just spout opinions off the top of your head!

  46. Lisa this was really interesting. can you say which schools you felt had a good SEL component? i haven't seen a big emphasis in our tours of public but have in tours of private (nueva, hamlin, friends). any comments appreciated as we get ready to put in our list this week! THANK YOU!

  47. The author raises some good points about school climate factors. A couple of thoughts-

    1. Since she makes a point about climate factors raising test scores, that counters her contention to some degree that test scores don't give a complete picture. Well, sure they don't. That kind of goes without saying. But for me test scores tell me more than any one other factor.

    2.Like one other commentor noted here, I agree that she is plugging for her employer. She added the other competing program for balance.